Optimistic about what the future holds for Saba with a higher income for many and multiple investments in the island’s development, Commissioner Bruce Zagers shared a positive message for 2023.
Per January 1, 2023, the minimum wage for Saba will be increased by 15% and the old age pension will be increased by 31%. This is in addition to the funds that have been made available to subsidize electricity for the lower income earners, the increase in the tax-free threshold for everyone, and the 4.5% salary increase that civil servants will receive.
“We continue to see the commitment from the Netherlands to work on eliminating backlogs and on improving the most basic services such as banking, which is one of the several priorities of the economic task force. There has also been a commitment made by the Minister of Social Affairs that a social minimum will be established in 2024. This will greatly improve the earning power of many of our people, especially those in the private sector,” said Zagers in his New Year’s message.
The many planned projects will have a positive impact on Saba and its people, such as the new harbor, the new housing facility for our elderly, new primary and secondary school buildings, new afterschool and daycare buildings, the rebuilding of Scouts Place, the building of a second and bigger solar park, the construction of a public swimming pool, the reforestation project, the finalization of the hydroponics projects and the implementation of other projects that help facilitate local food production.
“These are only some of the planned initiatives that will greatly improve our accessibility, our infrastructure, our self-sufficiency, and our sustainability. These projects, amongst several others, will bring total investments in the range of US $100 million to our island in the coming years, which will create jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities and most importantly, promote significant economic growth.”
The foundation for a more prosperous future has been created, but it is also vital to ensure that this foundation is maintained and protected and to continue to uphold strong, reliable, and stable governance. He said that strong financial management, continuity, transparency, and having built relationships based on mutual respect and trust, have propelled Saba’s growth.
Zagers looked ahead at the upcoming elections on March 15. He said that while a lot of rhetoric could be expected about what has and what has not been done during the last almost 4 years, it was important that people exercise their democratic right to vote and do so responsibly and not based on emotions. “No matter the outcome, we must always remember that Saba is only a five square mile island and that after the elections not only will we have to deal with the outcome but we will all still have to live together in unison.”
Looking back at 2022, Zagers said that from a government perspective, considerable progress was made. The Saba Package 2.0 was signed and a high-level economic task force was established, both of which lay the foundation for further administrative and economic growth and poverty reduction.
“We finalized the tourism masterplan, made progress on updating the airport masterplan, started building new classrooms for the Sacred Heart School, made significant progress on planning for the improvement of all educational and afterschool care facilities. We are finalizing the permit process and tender documents for the new Black Rocks Harbor, we will soon start projects to improve the current harbor, we achieved visible results in tackling erosion for a greener island, and we have continued to make drastic improvements in our waste management system.”
Before the end of 2022 the Public Entity Saba also obtained funding to finalize the hydroponics project, start a reforestation project, continue with the goat control program, and allocated funding to support backyard farming and animal husbandry through two pilot projects.
In 2022, the Public Entity Saba implemented a policy that no civil servant will earn less than $1600 net per month while several other civil servants saw their salaries adjusted to their correct scales.
Zagers acknowledged that while considerable progress was made in government, the personal impact for people varied. “Some of us have experienced growth and exciting opportunities, while others have not had it as easy because of the loss of loved ones and sickness. We have seen the cost of living skyrocket just as it has throughout the world. We know that there are many persons in our community that struggle to make ends meet while some of these same families continue to support others who even have it worse. The stress of a medical referral system that still needs urgent improvements only adds more weight to an already heavy burden for too many of our people.”
But at the same time people should also count their blessings. “When we look at other countries and even other islands within our region, the hardships that many are forced to live through and the lack of opportunities are much greater.”
In closing, Zagers wished everyone a happy, prosperous, healthy, and blessed 2023. “Let us approach this new year with optimism and a positive attitude where we support each other for the betterment of our people and island.”